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The surprising story of 2 TV chopper pilots who followed the OJ chase 20 years ago

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Off-Ramp host John Rabe talks with Zoey Tur and Dana Vahle, who 20 years ago were Bob and Dirk, macho TV chopper pilots competing for video of OJ slow-speed chase.

As Angelenos recall the O.J. Simpson case 20 years later, one story has never been told, until now: how the rivalry between TV news helicopter pilots Bob Tur and Dirk Vahle became friendship.

Tur, flying for CBS, was first on the scene for O.J.'s slow speed chase on June 17, 1994. Vahle, with NBC, was not far behind. The video from their choppers filled millions of TV screens across America.

Tur and Vahle, the best in their field, hated each other ... until about a year ago, when they met through a mutual friend and discovered they had one other thing in common.

Each is transgender: Dirk Vahle is now Dana Vahle, and Bob Tur is now Zoey Tur (she has been telling her story on Off-Ramp). 

VIDEO: The OJ Simpson Slow-Speed Chase

The pair have formed a deep friendship. But how did they get over 20 years of bad blood? This woman:

(Desiree Horton on the job. Credit: Desiree Horton)

Helicopter pilot Desiree Horton is a mutual friend. "Desiree told me I should get in touch with Dirk Vahle," Tur recalled. "I said, 'Why? Dirk Vahle is an a--hole.' She said, 'Because Dirk is now Dana.'"

Vahle, meanwhile, had transitioned to female two years earlier and recalls reading an article about Tur's transition and thinking, "You've got to be f--king kidding me!"

RELATED: "Dirk" Vahle's 53 movie credits

The two had a tense dinner together, actually their first face-to-face meeting, and have since become close. "When you go through something like this," Tur said, "it's like going to war. It's very, very rough, and you need people out there who understand. Dana was very understanding."

Vahle offers support and friendship, but as someone with such a similar background, and a two-year head start, Vahle's also been able to talk back to Tur, who was becoming a very public face of the transgender community.

"I felt she's spoke in a lot of absolutes," Vahle said. "And there's not a whole lot of absolutes in this, because it varies a lot by age and how you are in general. There's a lot of physical aspects of this — the hormones, the surgery — that I  wanted to talk to her about, because they weren't portrayed the way they should be."

What about that day 20 years ago that had us glued to our TVs and calling friends saying, "Hey! You've gotta see this!"

On June 17, 1994, Tur recalls that he flew over Nicole Simpson's grave site, figuring that O.J., who was on the lam, would go there and possibly commit suicide. But he wasn't there. Tur then heard over the California Highway Patrol radio that O.J. was in a white Bronco at the El Toro Y interchange.

"I looked down between my legs, and down below, [through the helicopter's bubble windshield,] I could see the freeway. And we saw a white Bronco," said Tur.

Now, the two laugh discussing Tur's claim to be first on the scene. "Everybody at my station feels very strongly that we were actually there before Bob Tur was there," Vahle said, "which, of course, is something we all wanted to do in that market at that point." But NBC delayed putting them on the air with it; Tur got on the air almost immediately.

Tur said that after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, "I thought we would be able to sit on the ground for a week or two because it would be wall-to-wall O.J. Simpson stories, and I never believed it'd become a helicopter story. And it became the biggest helicopter story and the biggest news story that we've seen in the United States outside of Sept. 11th."

"I don't think a lot about it," Vahle said. "But somebody will be talking to me, and I'll say, 'I did the O.J. chase.' And that freaks them out."

Where were you when O.J. took off in the white Bronco? Share your memories with us in the comments.

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